June 30, 2013
by Eryn Brown
In a war room of sorts in a neatly appointed government building,
U.S. officers dressed in crisp uniforms arranged themselves around a
U-shaped table and kept their eyes trained on a giant screen. PowerPoint
slides ticked through the latest movements of an enemy that recently
emerged in Saudi Arabia - a mysterious virus that has killed more than
half of the people known to have been infected.
Here at the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, experts from the U.S. Public Health Service and their
civilian counterparts have been meeting twice a week since the beginning
of June to keep tabs on the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome
Coronavirus. MERS-CoV, as the pathogen is known, causes fevers, severe
coughs and rapid renal failure as it attacks the lungs of victims.
Epidemiologists started noticing clusters of MERS cases in families and
in hospitals, in people who had close contact with victims. That made
researchers worry that the virus might evolve to spread more easily from
person to person - a prerequisite for a pandemic.
The CDC response team is working with other countries and with
medical facilities in the U.S. to make sure procedures are in place to
combat MERS. Hospitals have received guidelines for assessing and
isolating patients to keep the virus contained.
"If there are cases that come to the U.S., we want to be
well-prepared to address them," said CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden.